Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 18 Number 3
May 1979

Developmental and Remedial
A PHONIC READING PROGRAM FOR NAVAJO STUDENTS

Helen C Wieczkiewicz

Helen C. Wieczkiewicz received her B.A. in Elementary Education and her Master of Counseling degrees at Arizona State University. She is certified to teach the severely emotionally handicapped and is a school psychologist and reading specialist. In 1976, she was chosen as one of the Outstanding Elementary Educators in the U.S. At present, she is Psychoeducational Specialist for the Washington Elementary School District, Phoenix.

MANY Navajo children in public schools on the reservation have difficulty learning to read English. Navajo children in ESL (English as a Second Language) schools have a particularly difficult time because English is not taught until the second or third grade in their formal education. There are many factors operating here: some say it is a cultural thing, others say it is a bilingual problem, still others attribute it to the unusually high absenteeism that exists in many of the schools, lack of continuity in curriculum from grade level to grade level, use of a sight word approach to teaching reading, or an endless number of reasons why they are not learning to read well or learning to comprehend what they do read.

The purpose of this study was to determine if a highly-structured, phonetic approach to reading would help remediate those students already having difficulty with reading, and equip the younger children with the necessary decoding skills so that they could learn to read well early in their academic training. Comprehension is a difficult skill to learn for the Navajo child. In this program the mechanics of reading were taught separately from comprehension. The hypothesis was that this separation of reading skills would work to the advantage of the Navajo student, as it has been proven successful with Anglo students.

Description of the Reading Program

The Recipe for Reading program is a highly structured remediation and teaching technique using all the sense modalities; auditory, visual, and tactile-kinesthetic, singly and conjointly, in presenting the phonemes and graphemes which symbolize the English language. The child hears and says, sees and writes in various combinations with awareness of what he is doing and why. The sounds and letters are not presented haphazardly but in a planned sequence, a few at a time, with constant review for thorough cumulative mastery. As soon as the student has a few symbols to work with, he learns to blend them into words, to read simple sentences, to analyze the same dependable words into their components and to write them in cursive writing. Cursive writing is used rather than manuscript for the younger students as experience has shown that it reduces the reversals common to learning disabilities, and in some cases remediates them completely.

Primary students learn cursive as readily as they learn manuscript. The program is extremely effective because it uses the sound-symbol relationship, is structured, systematic, sequential, cumulative, thorough, and responsive to each studentís needs. Each concept is overlearned. Basically, it is a combination reading-spelling-writing program.

To facilitate the learning process, phonics rules are taught along with the sounds, as they become appropriate, to give the child still another crutch for mastering the symbols of language. Opportunities are given for using those phonics drills mastered by doing daily oral reading exercises. Oral discussion helps improve comprehension. Numerous supplementary materials expose the students to many basic materials so that reading can begin as soon as the student has mastered a few basic sounds and sight words.

School and Population Used

The Rough Rock Demonstration School, 50 miles northwest of Chinle, Arizona, was used. The summer school program, which ran from June 12 to July 14, was a combination academic/recreational concept, basically to provide the children with recreational activities and some academic training for those having difficulty in the reading and math areas. The total population of the summer school program was roughly estimated at 150 with an average daily absenteeism of 20%. This absenteeism reached 50% by the end of the five-week summer session. All children were Navajo, as was the primary language.

The faculty consisted of a summer school director, four Navajo teachers, many Navajo Youth Opportunity Program aides, and five Anglo volunteers who worked with the children as aides in the classrooms or in charge of recreation/physical education and arts and crafts. The children were placed into four levels for teaching purposes: Kindergarten and first grade; second and third grade; fourth and fifth grade; sixth and seventh grade.

Daily scheduling provided the children one hour each of academic instruction, recreation/P.E., academics, and arts and crafts. Classes began at 8:30 a.m. and finished at 12:30 p.m.

Reading sections for this study were limited to the three upper groups of students, most of whom were hampered by their limited understanding of English, particularly the youngest group. Four students were chosen from each group by the classroom teachers, depending on the severity of their reading problems. Ages of the students within groups were similar, but reading level and not age, was the primary factor in determining which students were in which group.

Testing

Tests were given to determine the studentsí intellectual, perceptual, and academic functioning. It was hoped these would identify characteristics, other than cultural, that indicate whether a student was of average ability and functioning below his potential because of perceptual or academic deficits, or if he was below average ability and functioning to his capacity, although below grade level. The five tests used were: Wechsler Intelligence for Children (WISC-R), Detroit Learning Aptitude Tests, Slosson Drawing Coordination Test, Spache Diagnostic Reading Scale, Sucher-Allred Reading Inventory.

The WISC-R was difficult to administer because most students had a limited command of English, and Navajo translators were used. Several older students refused the translators, so there was some question as to whether the verbal portions of the tests were depressed because of lack of knowledge, or lack of understanding of what was required of them.

Language Barriers Affect Tests

It appeared that the language barrier did adversely affect the Navajo studentsí performance on the WISC-R, particularly on the verbal subtests. Since it was typical of the Navajo student to give short, one-word answers to questions, he was penalized by this because poverty of answers received a lesser number of points. Prompting did not produce additional answers.

In almost every case there was a wide discrepancy between the verbal and performance subtest scores. From the testorís observations of studentsí performance in the reading class, the performance subtest scores were a more reliable indicator of the studentsí intellectual abilities than the verbal subtest scores or the combined full-scale scores. If the full-scale scores had been used as indicators of intellectual ability, all the students in this study would have fallen into the borderline range, which was not the case according to testor observation. Two students whose verbal and performance scores fell in the low average range did, indeed, function more slowly than the others.

The Detroit Test of Learning Aptitudes was used to determine if any visual or auditory perceptual deficits could be operating to cause reading problems. Only four subtests were used dealing with the auditory and visual areas. Determining the mental age of the child was not the primary reason for using this test, but rather to determine the mental age only on the auditory and visual subtests. On this test, as on the WISC-R, the studentsí performance suffered from their lack of understanding of English. On the auditory attention span for unrelated words, the students found it difficult to remember more than four or five unrelated words because the words had no meaning for them. The same was true of the visual attention span for objects. Some of the pictures were unfamiliar to them, and they could not name them (ex., fan, pear, jug). They experienced great difficulty with the auditory attention span for related syllables, because they were unfamiliar with the complicated structure of English sentences. They left out simple connectors or adjectives.

It was concluded that this test did not produce accurate results of the studentsí auditory or visual perceptual functions.

The Slosson Drawing Coordination Test results were accurate indicators of the studentsí visual-motor abilities, because no language was involved other than simply telling the students to copy the stimuli. Instructions were demonstrated, and they fully understood what was required of them.

The Spache Diagnostic Reading Scale and the Sucher-Allred Reading Inventory were felt to be valid tests in determining what students were capable of reading before and after instruction was given. Both tests yielded word recognition scores, passage error scores, and grade level scores (comprehension) where applicable.

Most of the comprehension questions on the Spache dealt in concrete terms, so students were able to understand and answer the questions adequately. However, the comprehension questions on the Sucher-Allred dealt more with inferential and critical thinking skills, and the students did experience some difficulty with them. It was necessary to rephrase more concrete questions in order to determine whether the students were comprehending what they had read.

It is the testorís opinion that use of of these tests did not serve the purpose for which they were intended. It would be difficult to determine which tests, if any, would give an adequate profile of Navajo studentsí abilities which would lend itself to the planning of a comprehensive developmental or remedial academic program.

Supplementary Materials Used

The Recipe for Reading program was a phonetic approach and supplied only the mechanics of reading. The use of certain supplementary materials was vitally important to give the students the wherewith to practice the decoding skills they learned.

For the primary students the Dolch Sight Words were most important and were part of the daily drills. They enabled the beginning student to read simple sentences and primary books almost immediately. Merrill Linguistic Readers, Educators Publishing Alphabet Series, Michigan Tracking, Sullivan Storybook Readers and Workbooks, and teacher-made sentences also afforded the younger students instant success in reading. Ginn Basal Readers, Addison Wesley comprehension and phonics dittos, and daily discussions were used with the older and better readers to teach comprehension. They were given ample time daily to read so that they could generalize the decoding skills they mastered and learn what the printed word meant. (Unless a student is actually given an opportunity to read, he is not going to be able to make the transition from learning the sound in isolation to recognizing the sounds in printed material.)

Cursive handwriting was an integral part of the Recipe for Reading program. Each sound as it was learned auditorily and visually was also learned kinestetically. Practice was given daily in the correct formation of the cursive letters as they were learned.

As the students mastered the sounds and blended them into words, they were also required to spell them in cursive, which constituted their daily spelling lesson. They also were required to subvocalize each sound as they wrote it, which provided an additional auditory clue to which letter they were writing. Spelling skills improved quickly using this technique.

A behavior management program was used in order to motivate the students to function at their optimal level. It was necessary, in view of the short time summer school was in session, for the students to begin functioning immediately. Time did not permit gaining their confidence in more conventional ways, but the students responded well to this program. This management program was the determining factor in motivating the students, first, to be physically present in the room for instruction, and second, to pay attention to the task at hand.

Post-Testing

Two post-tests were given, the Spache Diagnostic Reading Scale and the Sucher-Allred Reading Inventory. The only portion of the two tests which lent itself to statistical analysis was the Word Recognition portion of the Spache. The statistics deal only with number of words recognized. Grade level scores are shown elsewhere. The following table shows the growth experienced by the students. It indicates that the pre- and post-tests were significant at the .05 (two-tailed) level using the Wilcoxon Test. N was too small to use any other means of analysis. This would indicate that the instruction given between pre- and post-tests netted a significant difference.

 

Student

Spache Pre (WR)

Spache Post (WR)

 

d

 

Rd

 

R1

1

22

40

-18

9

 

2

13

25

-12

5.5

 

3

16

28

-12

5.5

 

4

21

32

-11

4

 

5

0

20

--

   

6

1

18

-17

7.5

 

7

7

24

-17

7.5

 

8

0

9

--

   

9

14

15

-1

1.5

 

10

11

16

-5

3

 

11

--

20

--

   

12

32

33

-1

1.5

--

         

q

T= q p < .05 (two-tailed)

(Assistance with statistical analysis by Dr. Max Jones, Psychologist)

Students 1 through 8 were virtually non-readers when they entered the program. Neither of these tests measured totally the material mastered during the study. For example, students I through 8 had mastered the preprimer and ten of the primer Dolch Sight Words during daily instruction, which was a total of 50 words. However, the Sucher-Allred on the primer and first reader word recognition lists showed only 20 Dolch Sight Words, and the Spache showed 21 Dolch Sight Words on List 1, Word Recognition.

Summary

The author intended to determine if Navajo students could learn to read as readily as Anglo students, given a well-organized, highly-structured phonics program, using all their sense modalities, and discounting all variables of race, culture, ethnic background, or whatever.

Daily instruction and all testing was done by the author so that there would be first-hand knowledge of the actual learning process, modes of learning, attitudes, and motivation of the students. This was important so that maximum delivery of the program would be achieved.

The students participated in one-hour daily drills which included both the mechanics of reading and comprehension skills. Motivation and interest was kept high by the use of a behavior management program using primary reinforcers and token rewards. Good rapport was established with the students. It was felt that optimal conditions existed, in view of the circumstances: that is, the ESL concept of the school, for the program to yield maximum success.

Gains on the Spache Word Recognition pre- and post-tests were significant at the .05 (two-tailed) level. Even more significant was the obvious gains shown on all other test areas which could not be treated statistically because of N. Tests used to get intellectual, perceptual, and academic profiles were felt to be ineffective with this population, although some subtests did yield significant other information.

The ESL concept of the school was the only deterring factor, as it was felt that perhaps even more significant gains could have been realized in a reservation public school where English was the primary language. However, it does appear from the significant gains of the students during this study that this program would be a valuable adjunct to their present program, or serve as a basis for a totally new reading program. It could serve as a developmental or a remedial reading program.

Recommendations

1. There should be a continuity of reading curriculum between grades. The scope and sequence of the Recipe for Reading program lends itself to this continuity of instruction from grade level to grade level. The consonants and short vowel sounds should be taught in the first grade, the blends in the second grade, long vowels and some digraphs in the third grade, and digraphs and syllabication, prefixes, suffixes, etc. in the fourth grade. This sequence should give the student an excellent foundation in developing word attach skills and also help him build new skills on previously learned prerequisite skills.

2. For the upper-grade remedial students not functioning at grade level, the Recipe for Reading program should be implemented as a separate reading lesson for one period daily until reading skills are at grade level.

3. For the Navajo child as well as the Anglo child, decoding skills should be overlearned to the involuntary level. This means one second recognition of words. The reading process should involve the reader in the act of comprehending units of thought and unless the decoding process is overlearned, the reader will not be free for total involvement in comprehending what he is reading. Therefore, the technique of delivery which was so effective in this study should be used. It should be sequential, structured, and accumulative. It should be used in total classroom involvement, or small group presentation, at the discretion of the teacher.

4. Dolch Sight Words constitute 65% of all words found in basal readers. These words should be drilled daily until total mastery, using the same technique as in this study.

5. Supplementary reading materials should be carefully chosen to correspond with phonics concepts being taught. Words encountered in the reading material for which a phonics rule has not been taught should be taught as a sight word until that phonics concept is taught.

6. Readability levels of reading materials should be carefully checked. Commercial materials do not always control readability levels nor do they control vocabulary.

7. Students should have ample time during the day in which to be involved in the actual reading process. Uninterrupted silent sustained reading would be a good technique. But most important, the student should be reading books that he can read independently fluently.

8. Comprehension lessons should be a daily procedure using such techniques as: language experience, reading stories to the children and discussing them, vocabulary development and dictionary skills, creative writing, or any language development program in which the student is actually involved in the writing process.

9. In the early grades classes should be conducted in English. A student must learn to think in English before he can communicate effectively in English. There should be a clear distinction between classes for Navajo and classes for English.

10. Spelling is a difficult skill to learn unless the student learns to spell phonetically. Approximately 75% of English words can be spelled phonetically. The Recipe for Reading program, as part of reading, teaches the student to hear a sound, say it, and then write it. Thus the student learns to spell using sounds rather than letters which makes more sense to him.

11. Cursive writing rather than manuscript should be taught at the primary and intermediate levels. Since it is an integral part of the reading program, it further reinforces the phonics concepts being taught. Reversals which are common to manuscript are not found in cursive. The transition from manuscript to cursive which occurs at the third grade would be unnecessary. There is no relationship between a studentís writing manuscript so that it corresponds to the printed word and his ability to learn to read. If taught using appropriately lined paper, students should master penmanship easily.

12. Unless a student is totally involved in the learning process--motivated, concentrating, performing, and enjoying learning, he is not going to show much progress in his academic skills. A highly structured behavior management program should be implemented in the classrooms to control overt behaviors. Basic to any behavior management program is the studentís ability to feel successful in the academic setting. In my observations many students appeared to be avoiding tasks because they were too difficult. Until their academic skills come up, all students would profit from consistent, predictable classroom structure. Simple basic classroom behaviors should be spelled out to the students which they must observe; i.e., come in and sit down promptly, do not leave seat without permission, raise hand for assistance, and no talking without permission. Teachers should follow through consistently in seeing these rules are adhered to. Simple reinforcement menus could be devised to reward appropriate behaviors in the classroom; i.e., teacher assistants, movie projector operator, eraser of chalkboards, etc.. Well-defined limits with a successful academic program should result in high motivation among the students and increased respect for their teachers and the total school process.

13. Community involvement is a high priority item. Parent cooperation is imperative to reduce the high absenteeism among the students. Workshops should be held during chapter house meetings by school personnel where parents are made aware of: 1. Their responsibility toward the school; 2. The importance of a proper education for their children; 3. The importance of regular attendance of their children at school, otherwise skills they do learn will be splintered.

 
 
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